How a Low Demand Lifestyle Supports Emotional Regulation

I work as an independent Nurse Consultant under the name Laura Hellfeld Neurodivergent Nurse Consulting and specialize in supporting Autistic and neurodivergent people.

‘Emotional regulation’ is one, if not the number one, reason why parents seek support for their child.

Common quotes from a parent or carer are

“We just all walk on eggshells around them.”

“He gets set off so easily and all of the time. We go from one upset to another.”

“Things are pretty explosive.”

The reason their child is in ongoing distress is likely due to a variety of factors. This will take some time and investigating to tease out what is going on.

At the same time, I know that we need to start incorporating some proactive supports now.

One of the first things to do is start to look at helping the family incorporate a low demand lifestyle.

This is one of the key foundations in supporting a young person’s emotional regulation right away.

What is a Low Demand Lifestyle?

To answer this, we should first answer ‘What is a Demand?

  1. The easiest demands to recognize are ones that are given with a pressure to do something.

“Put your shoes on.”

“Complete questions 1–15 in your maths book.”

2. These may also come as recommendations and use language like ‘You need to..” or “You ought to…”

For example, “I know just the person you should make an appointment with. I’ll give you their number and you really need to get in.” Even when said with the best of intentions, this is still a demand.

But we need to expand our idea of what a demand is.

3. A demand isn’t always something that someone else is telling us to do or their suggestions. Demands are also expectations like social expectations.

Christmas is a good example to show this. Holidays come with a huge list of social expectations — both direct and unspoken.

On Christmas there is a social expectation to not only unwrap your presents in front of everyone but to also be happy for what you got and show excitement or gratitude. There are also expectations about joining in on the family meal and chatting with relatives.

These are all demands.

4. There are also internal demands that we have for self-care.

For example, when our stomach rumbles, there is a demand to take care of ourself by having something to eat. This is similar to needing to find a tissue to manage a runny nose or going to the toilet when we feel a full bladder.

Why are we talking about demands?

Neurodivergent people, particularly PDA (persistent drive for autonomy) Autistics, are incredibly triggered by demands.

This is due to having a more sensitive neuroception.

Neuroception — an ongoing and often subconscious process of taking information from the environment and within ourselves to decide if we are safe or unsafe.

This means that their nervous systems tends to feel unsafe when demands are placed on them, whether external or internal.

During this, the person who is triggered can go into one of many reaction states (as reported by the Autistic community):

· Fight

· Flight

· Freeze

· Fawn (people pleasing)

· Fib

· Flop

· Funster

When in these states, a young person can find sleep, learning, self-care tasks and emotional regulation difficult.

This may start giving you a hint about how we are linking the topics of a low demand lifestyle to emotional regulation.

Alrighty, let’s circle back.

What is a Low Demand Lifestyle?

In the simplest terms — by definition, it means to get rid of some demands.

This is a PROACTIVE approach to supporting emotional regulation.

It’s about trying to create an environment where

1. Less pressure is put onto people

2. Everyone, regardless of age, has input and that input is valued

How Do I Know Which Demands to Get Rid Of?

It’s about really looking at the people in your family and thinking,

· What are our priorities?

· What do we want to make more time for?

· What isn’t working?

· What feels too hard?

· What is causing a huge upset?

· What, if you really though about it, don’t you care about?

· What isn’t adding any value to our lives?

· What arbitrary or social norms are you following that you don’t need to or maybe don’t even like?

How Does this Tie into Emotional Regulation?

As you drop unnecessary demands, you drop the number of times that your child’s nervous system is challenged and feels unsafe.

This naturally increases more regulated moments.

When will I see this starting to help my child?

Of course, the answer is ‘this depends’.

Each person and each family unit is so unique. At the same time, I get feedback from parents and carers that they see (and feel) additional moments of regulation pretty quickly.

It’s in those small moments that perhaps could have tipped over to an argument.

These moments add up over time.

The key is time. Some people need longer for their nervous system to heal and learn to trust those around them.

Overtime, the goal with a low demand lifestyle is to not only increase regulation but to also find that you all have more time for the things you enjoy.

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